JamesProfile1TwitterBy James D’Ambrosio

When it comes to maintaining a donor base, most development professionals know that — with some exceptions — it’s easier and less expensive to keep existing donors than acquire new ones. With that in mind, Ashley Halligan, a nonprofit analyst at Software Advice, an Austin, Texas-based outfit helping customers find the right software for their business, recently shared an article, “5 Ways to Validate Giving Decisions and Drive Retention,” outlining strategies to retain first-time donors, especially those acquired last month (December 2012).

Authored by Matthew Mielcarek, VP of consulting at Charity Dynamics, an online marketing company serving nonprofits, also in Austin, he notes that giving in the final month of the year is disproportionately high: one-third of online gifts are made in December. However, he cites a 2011 donorCentrics Internet and Multichannel Giving Benchmarking Report indicating that 70 PERCENT OF FIRST-TIME DONORS WILL NOT CONTRIBUTE AGAIN. Given this, he presents some effective retention strategies nonprofits use. Perhaps they can help your agency as well.


1) CONSIDER THE FIRST GIFT AN ACQUISITION GIFT: It’s suggested that “First-time donors are qualified leads” you need to invest in and build a relationship with. He considers it the beginning of a conversation “optimizing lifetime value of your new friend,” adding that it’s important to have a budget and plan in place for converting first-time donors.

2) LISTEN TO WHAT YOUR NEW DONOR IS TELLING YOU: Mielcarek says there’s value in data obtained from new donors — amount of first gift, billing city/state, solicitation campaign and giving channel — in developing “a new constituent messaging strategy.” Analyzing this information holds value: “Online-acquired donors, for instance, generally have poor online retention; we know that a multi-channel communication strategy will be important. In contrast, offline-acquired donors are far less likely to cross the multi-channel bridge and a single-channel communication strategy may be appropriate.”

3) THANK YOUR DONOR: Mielcarek references the Nonprofit Donor Engagement Benchmark Report indicating that 21 PERCENT OF DONORS REPORT NEVER BEING THANKED FOR A GIFT. He advises: “You can’t say thank you enough. Even if you sent an acknowledgement for donations made in 2012, send a follow-up to donors this month [January 2013] to share gratitude, let them know how the year wrapped up for your organization, and advise them of your 2013 plans.” 

4) ENGAGE RELEVANTLY: The author suggests ongoing communication with constituents based on what you’ve learned from an initial gift by tailoring message content to donor’ program interest and affinity. He cites research indicating an agency’s Web site is the first choice for donors acquiring information about charities of interest, followed by e-mail and Facebook. Mielcarek advises: “Consider your appropriate channel mix to deliver highly relevant engagement. What role would direct mail or follow-up volunteer phone calls play?”

5) CONVERT TO THE NEXT STAGE OF GIVING: Having established a dialogue, he recommends applying what you’ve learned to convert donors to a second follow-up gift “by driving action and response for the best program suited to this donor’s needs or affinity.” In short, a tailored message. A second donation could be a renewal gift, upgrade, or moving up to “a monthly or mid-level giving program.”




A) What is your perspective on these strategies?

B) Care to share other ideas/approaches that you’ve found successful?


By James V. D’Ambrosio

Recently I attended a grant-writing workshop at the Support Center For Nonprofit Management in NYC. While most of the day-long seminar focused on the nuts and bolts of preparing winning grant proposals, at one point the conversation turned to the challenging environment many nonprofits now find themselves in: struggling with reduced government support and increased competition for foundation and corporate grants.

Given this reality — unlikely to change anytime soon — I began thinking about focusing on the basics: maintaining positive relations with your donor base — those regular $5, $10 and $20 gifts comprising nearly 80 percent of individual giving, on average. Since it is far more difficult — and expensive — to acquire new donors than keep existing ones, it is imperative that nonprofits cement these relationships and not take them for granted. With gasoline soaring toward record highs — last night I saw a station raise the price 20 cents a gallon — and stubbornly high unemployment, people will continue to look for ways to cut discretionary spending. And charitable donations definitely fall into that category.

So this is a good time to update and remind long-time small donors about the good work your agency does and the positive difference it’s making in people’s lives. You should reiterate how much you value their support, framed as an important investment serving your constituencies.  This should not be a fund-raising pitch; rather, strictly an informational piece. It’s good public relations to intersperse solicitations with informative pieces that do not ask for money. Many donors — myself included — appreciate this. It reduces the likelihood of people  feeling ‘overpitched,’ i.e., only being contacted when asked for financial support.

Additionally, consider the long-term perspective: keeping  donors engaged and excited about the work you do increases the likelihood they will feel good about contributing to your cause. If you can keep donors engaged during difficult times, think what you can do when the economy improves! 

QUESTION TO READERS: How else might you keep donors engaged during these challenging economic times?

%d bloggers like this: